Keeping 'an open mind' at new Audenried charter high

Posted: September 07, 2011

AVA REEVES, a senior at the new Universal Audenried Charter High School, bantered with Principal Robert Rouse yesterday after he chided her about her school uniform.

"A senior with her tie not on and a jacket with the sleeves all turned up," Rouse admonished her in the school's cafeteria.

"I don't have one," Reeves replied. "Can you get me one of those clip-on ties?"

Reeves, 18, smiled during the exchange and so did Rouse, the new principal of Universal Audenried, at 33rd and Tasker streets.

As a junior last year, Reeves was one of the most vocal student leaders protesting the school district's decision to convert Audenried into a charter school operated by Universal Companies, the organization started by music mogul Kenny Gamble.

Opponents pointed to the fact that Universal had never run a high school, that Audenried students were making academic progress and that the decision to turn the school into a charter was done without public input.

But yesterday, Reeves said that she and others student leaders were trying to make the best of things.

"I decided to keep an open mind," Reeves said. " I don't want to be mad all the time. Plus it's our last year."

Universal took over Audenried and nearby Vare Middle School as part of its proposed Promise Neighborhood initiative after receiving a $500,000 planning grant to try to model the poverty-stricken Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood that feeds into Audenried after New York's successful Harlem Children's Zone.

Universal, which runs three other charter schools, had previously operated Vare but lost that contract before last school year after seven years of poor performance.

Universal will apply to the U.S. Department of Education next week in a bid to receive millions to fully implement the plan.

The first part of it became a reality yesterday as students - dressed in different colored shirts and vests based on their grade - streamed through the doors. Both boys and girls wore ties.

"I think everybody looks nice," said Zoe Thornton, a senior. "We look sophisticated and educated." She said that a uniform policy wasn't enforced last year.

"From the first period today, I knew that I was going to learn something this year," said junior Jalil Wright.

Wright's mother, Tamika Clayton, said that she felt a change was needed at the school.

"Whether Universal is the company to do that is yet to be seen," she said, "but I'm hoping that it is."

Rouse said that he and a community-liaison staffer went door-to- door to meet with parents and students over the past two weeks.

He said he also looked up the records of students who had poor attendance or behavioral problems last year and called them and their parents into the school over the summer.

"I told them we would be willing to put those old records aside and give them a fresh start this year," Rouse said.

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